Ambleside Blog

"We Are Made By History"

The year our school opened, a parent of one of our eight enrolled students (yes, eight in total) came late to her January parent-teacher conference.  She apologized immediately and said with a smile that spanned the continent, “I just came from the parade!”

“Parade?” I asked.  Oblivious.

Though her mouth was still smiling, her eyes searched mine like I could not possibly be in earnest. “Dr. Martin Luther King!” she graciously reminded me.

Our school is situated in the heart of a southern town.  The scars and wounds of over 200 years of slavery followed by 100 more years of institutionalized racism, segregation, and oppression can still be seen.  Had I actually scheduled conferences on the holiday honoring Dr. King?  Why, yes, I had.  The look of obvious ignorance on my white face might have offended her, but if it did, she didn’t show it.  I have forgotten many things about that inaugural year, but I have never forgotten that exchange, how uncomfortable my ignorance was to me and, I fear, insulting to her.

I was not content to remain ignorant.  Even though I was born only 3 years after his death and raised in progressive southern California, all I knew besides his name and iconic initials, was that he was an African American civil rights activist who was assassinated.  Of course I knew assassination was a horrifying thing, but growing up did I even conceptualize the term “civil rights”?  I doubt it.  Of this great man it was not difficult to inform my ignorance; in doing so I was deeply moved, and I wanted to make sure all students in our school would have the opportunity to know and appreciate Dr. King’s service and courage.  Not in a cursory way, but in the same rich way our students honor the sacrifice and service of military veterans or the creative genius of Shakespeare.

One of the things I have always appreciated about Ambleside® regarding school programs, is the limitation of key annual events to just three:  Veterans Day chapel, Christmas chapel, and the Shakespeare festival.  Three years after opening, our school committed to including a fourth annual program: The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. chapel, which is held the third week in January, close to the U.S. national holiday that honors him. Upon returning from Christmas break, students begin hearing about Dr. King’s early life during morning assembly. African American spirituals and songs of the civil rights movement like, “We Shall Overcome” and “I Shall Not Be Moved” are taught in music class. Relevant poetry, readings, and recitations are shared.  When the special day arrives, we gather in the parish hall, and our speaker is none other than Dr. King himself.   His dream or his view form the mountaintop is projected in fuzzy black and white images on a massive screen.  His recorded voice booms out, like a siren, both warning and warming our hearts.  Next week will mark the 8th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapel held at Ambleside School of Ocala.

Service is another knightly quality which a child should be nerved for by heroic examples until he grudges to let slip an opportunity… Courage, too, should be something more than the impulse of the moment;it is a natural fire to be fed by heroic example and by the teaching that the thing to be done is always of more consequence than the doer.”[1]

In Dr. King we have just such a heroic example.  He courageously shared the truth of human persons that the rest of the world, certainly many in the United States of America, had a hard time seeing.   His service helped the world gain access to the truth, not by force, but by inspiration, grace, suffering and sacrifice.

My daughter, a high school junior, has often repeated the line: “You begin to die the day you stay silent about things that matter.”  Dr. King said that, and I’m proud to say she became interested in and acquainted with him during her formative years in an Ambleside® School.


[1] Mason, Charlotte, School Education, 111.

 

 

Courage

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien recently enchanted my youngest son.  The fact that his older brother had read the book several times made this a milestone in my son’s mind.  He eagerly wanted to discuss his newly acquired knowledge of another world: Did you know there are four kinds of hobbits, mom?! and The name of the commonplace hobbits is Harfoot.

Now that my sons’ imaginations had the delight of forming pictures based on the author’s words, we decided to watch the movie based on his book.  Though my son was very disappointed with its deviations from the book, even to the point of tears, there are some worthy scenes in the movie.  One was when Gandalf and the Lady of Lorien are discussing how to hold back evil.  Gandalf, as quoted in the book, says:

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.[1]

Bilbo, known for his love of a simple home life with no adventure, was unwittingly selected to be a key agent in fighting evil in Tolkien’s drama.

That scene captured my attention.  Earlier that day I had been reading many year-end solicitations for support from organizations whose work we love.  They each spoke of courageous deeds, such as spreading the Gospel in closed countries, providing new ways of life for former prostitutes, and educating children in war-torn lands.  Stories of good overcoming evil, light holding back the darkness.  Tears had welled up in my eyes as I absorbed the profound beauty of these stories and longed to share in the beauty born of courage.  I sat in silence with God.  Then I turned my attention to planning our next semester of home education.  I did not at that time think of any connection between what I had read and what I needed to do next--until God spoke through Gandalf to my heart. 

Me, mom and teacher, with my energy mainly spent on the care and education of my small family.  You, parent or teacher, perhaps tired and weary in your duties.  Keeping darkness at bay?  Courageous?

Charlotte Mason, I think, would answer, “Yes.”  She writes of various manifestations of courage.  As I have reflected on her writings on this topic, I realize that I have paired drama and courage so closely together that there is no courage if there is no drama.  However, it can be true that there is an inverse relationship between drama and courage, such as the Courage of Serenity, as described by Charlotte Mason:

Few of us are likely to be tried in a field of battle; but the battle-field has an advantage over the thousand battles we each have to fight in our lives, because the sympathy of numbers carries men forward.  The Courage required to lose a leg at home through a fall or an injury on the cricket field; and the form of Courage which meets pain and misfortune with calm endurance is needed by us all.  No one escapes the call for Fortitude, if it be only in the dentist’s chair.[2] 

What battlefield calls me to express the beauty of the Courage of Serenity?  The battle to partner with God in educating my sons, though I lack the “sympathy of numbers,” to spread a lavish table of living ideas instead of the incessant twaddle of our culture, to not play on the natural affections or desires of my sons but to train them in life-giving habits, to cultivate an atmosphere of respect and joy rather than misused authority.  On a daily basis I must summon Courage and Fortitude to face the many challenges with Serenity.  What battlefield calls you to express the Courage of Serenity? 

I also need the Courage of Capacity, which Charlotte Mason describes in this way:

the courage which assures us that we can do the particular work which comes in our way, and will not lend an ear to the craven fear which reminds us of failures in the past and unfitness in the present.  It is intellectual Courage, too, which enables us to grapple with tasks of the mind with a sense of adequacy.[3]

How often do I lend a cowardly ear to the failures of my past?  How often do I question my fitness to fight these battles?  Do you?  In truth, we are fully adequate because God, our King and Saviour, is ever at hand and has apportioned our duties.

the Christian is aware of Jesus as an ever present Saviour, at hand in all his dangers and necessities; of Christ as the King whose he is and whom he serves, who rules his destinies and apportions his duties.  It is a great thing to be owned, and Jesus Christ owns us.  He is our Chief, whom we delight to honour and serve; and He is our Saviour, who delivers us, our Friend who cherishes us, our King who blesses us with His dominion.[4]

During one particularly intense battle scene in the movie, when the weary representatives of light had fought their best and were still surrounded by darkness, Gandalf urged them to “Stand your ground!”  Because it is Jesus Christ who owns us and apportions our duty, we must not yield any ground.  Not today, tomorrow, or next semester.  It is a sacred duty to bring up children.  One that requires acts of Courage in many manifestations.  May we express the profound beauty of the Courage of Serenity and of Capacity, with or without drama.


[1] The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

[2] Ourselves (113)

[3] Ourselves (117)

[4] Ourselves (201-202)

 

Oh Me! Oh Life!

Quieting ourselves enough to undertake a serious self examination, reflecting on a year ending and a new year beginning, we inevitably find ourselves lacking. Walt Whitman writes:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

             Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. [1]

Whitman was a great poet, and thus a great observer of the human condition. We are a “poor” and “plodding” lot. Thus, any honest introspection will have a certain melancholic tendency. His answer? As a humanist, with a leap of faith Whitman proclaims an unabashed optimism, “you are here… the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Throughout the centuries, followers of Jesus have found the self to be far too fragile a foundation, one worthy of no confidence. But, rather, have proclaimed: “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.”[2] “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”[3] And, “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”[4]

If the coming of New Year’s Day invites us to look back and inward, examining our past and the failings of our own heart, Christmas reminds us not to linger and despair; rather to turn eyes forward and upward, looking toward Immanuel, God with us, who beckons us into a bright and holy future.

As the new year begins, may we be given the grace of reflection, holding before us both the truth of self and of God.


[1] Leaves of Grass, 1892
[2] 1 Timothy 1:12
[3] Philippians 3:14
[4] 2 Corinthians 3:18

*The Rocket by Edward Middleton Manigault

Immanuel

On a bright December afternoon, Virginia Theological seminary hosted the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra in a “Sing-Along” performance of Handel’s Messiah. The venue was Immanuel Chapel with its acoustically crisp circular nave. Conductor and soloists stood center, immediately before the alter, with orchestra behind and choir members rounding to the left and right. Rounded ceiling and rounded walls served to embrace the audience in rhythms of instrument and vocalist. We found ourselves in the midst of musical concord.

The oboes and strings create a somber mood. A young tenor begins the first vocal movement, singing the words of the prophet, Isaiah:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned:
For she hath received of the Lord's hand.
 
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

In melodious repetition a larger harmony comes forth, instruments and voice proclaiming the God who is God of all comfort beckoning to his people.

Handel makes skillful use of “word painting,” a technique by which the music reflects the literal meaning of a song. A second tenor sings:

Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough places plain.

"Valley" is sung at a low pitch. "Exalted" is a rising figure, and "mountain" forms a peak in the melody. "Hill" requires a declining pitch, and "low" returns another low note. "Crooked" is sung as a rapid figuring of four different notes, while "straight" is sung maintaining a single note. "The rough places" are illustrated musically by short, separate notes; whereas, the final word "plain" extends over several measures in a series of long notes. Listen to the following link, Ev’ry valley shall be exalted. The music becomes both personal and transcendent, touching the deep wells of the heart.

The temporal world certainly provides its distressing circumstances. This is true in our day, as it was Isaiah’s; from the tragedy of mass violence to the tyranny of the mundane – “When will my to-do list be finished?” “If only things were different.”  And still, God speaks to his people, “Comfort ye.” Handel reminds us of the offer of divine consolation. He prepares a way, raising valleys, bringing mountains low, and making rough places plain. And, the way is the way to Himself, a real presence, Immanuel, God with us, potent as Handel’s music is potent, if we only have ears to hear and refuse to settle for a lesser god.

The first chorus announces the revelation of God’s glory:
And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together:
for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

Singing chorus after chorus, attention was turned from futile ways to a child who was born, to a Son who was given. His name shall be called "Wonderful", "Counselor", "The Mighty God", "The Everlasting Father", "The Prince – of Peace." (Listen at And His Name)

Igor Stravinsky proclaimed, “The profound meaning of music and its essential aim is to promote a communion, a union of man with his fellow man and with the Supreme Being.”  Take some time this Christmas to experience Messiah with friends and family. I recommend MIT Concert Choir with William Cutter directing.

Merry Christmas!

Maryellen St. Cyr

 

 

 

Transcendence in Thanksgiving

Recently, I came across a definition of God suggested by the nineteenth century theologian, Adam Clarke. Of all things, it moved  me to  think about  Thanksgiving.

Many attempts have been made to define the term God.  As to the word itself, it is pure Anglo-Saxon, and among our ancestors signified, not only the divine Being, now commonly designated by the word, but also good; as in their apprehensions it appeared that God and good were correlative terms; and when they thought or spoke of him they were doubtless led from the word itself to consider him as THE GOOD BEING, a Fountain of infinite benevolence and beneficence toward his creatures.

A general definition of this great First Cause, as far as human words dare attempt one, may be thus given: The eternal, independent, and self-existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign motive or influence: he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, and most spiritual of all essences; infinitely benevolent, beneficent, true, and holy: the cause of all being, the upholder of all things; infinitely happy, because infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only to himself, because an infinite mind can be fully apprehended only by itself -- in a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, can not err or be deceived; and who, from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, right, and kind. [1]

I paused. And read again, and again, and was struck with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Through misty eyes and a full heart, I attempted to express appreciation for the GOOD Being, God.

Throughout recorded history, humankind has sought ways to give offerings of thanksgiving and gratitude to God, expressed in praise, song, dance and feast days. These expressions bind us in the reciprocity of gift and Giver. The biblical writings, church fathers, catechisms and prayers, as well as the upcoming national holiday, Thanksgiving, all recognize the essential role of remembering with gratitude. Such gratefulness is essential to life-giving relationship with God, our Creator, our Savior, our Sustainer in life everyday – the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Giving thanks to God has a transcendent aspect. It begins as an expression of what was experienced in  the earthly realm usually for a material, earthly good. Yet it should take on an effect, that transcends the gift to the Giver with a forgetfulness of self and a knowledge of God. And here lies the challenge for you and for me.

In our modern world, we are continually bombarded with messages of the sufficiency of the autonomous self. Marketers of modernity tell us that gifts and the identities of the gifted are acquired through  abilities, efforts, and wisdom, not at the hands of a Benevolent Benefactor. Thus, our “thank you” becomes a perfunctory courtesy, rather than a sign of true appreciation that increases humility and intimacy between creature and Creator.

If we are to sustain gratitude for every good and perfect gift from above, we must be reconciled to our experience of loss,  pain, and disparity. We embrace the Giver through the delightful gifts He gives, and we must learn to embrace Him through loss and pain. A recent reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity have furthered a realignment with these challenging ideas.

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away "blindly" so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.[2]

In looking for Christ, one will begin to experience what Adam Clarke attempted in his thirty plus descriptors of  God, the idea of  transcendent - beyond what is ordinary. We might begin with considering God in thanksgiving as “the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being: the Being whose purposes and actions spring from himself …


[1] Clarke, Adam, Christian Theology, 66-67.
[2] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, 226-227.
* Nina Reznichenko, Prayer

 

Building in Reality

I recently watched young kids build a dam in a stream that was dumping into the ocean.  They kept at it for at least an hour – stopping rogue leaks, expanding the mouth, raising the levels.  There was no particular reason for or meaning in building the dam that tranquil day: it was just “child’s play.” Or, so I thought.  Its significance took on deeper meaning by the fact that I happened to also be reading about the building of the Hoover Dam in The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko.  The following passage prompted me to think more deeply:

“To subdue a river such as the Colorado – not simply to whip it into submission for a season or two, but to break and yoke the thing by taming its rampages, vanquishing its moods, and converting its kinetics into energy that serves human beings – such a task is not only a colossal technical undertaking but, perhaps even more significant, a monumental act of audacity.  The challenge requires more than merely superb competency and monstrous ambition; it also demands a level of hubris that was unimaginable to the world of Cardenas, an undertaking that lay far beyond even the boldest dreams of the Renaissance and the ages of exploration and discovery that followed.  It required the kind of ruthless, steely certainty that humans only began to touch for the first time, perhaps, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This was the age of iron and steel – not only in terms of materials but also in the way the world was understood: a place whose laws were rigid and immutable, but also now capable of yielding to the even stronger forces of man’s intellect and will.”

Audacity.  Superb competency.  Monstrous ambition.  Hubris.  These traits were playing out on a micro-scale at the beach that day. 

The author does not seem to think highly of such traits, and his opinion is well taken.  These traits without regard to Authority result in undertakings reminiscent of the Tower of Babel.  However, these traits have often been put to the service of creation and our Creator in awesome ways.  Even on that day at the beach, albeit in a small way.  It took hubris, not of the self-inflated pride variety, but as in a child’s belief in his ability to accomplish a task that he thinks is worthwhile but almost beyond him.  Almost.

When the dam was finished, I had taken for granted the children’s ability to build it out of found materials.  But then a boy of about 8 years old came upon the finished dam and exclaimed, “How did you guys build this?”  None of the builders heard the question – they had moved on to exploring deeper into the stream.  So the boy yelled his question again and again as he enthusiastically examined the dam more closely.  Finally, one of the builders heard the question and replied, “We just brought logs and stones and filled in the cracks with sand.”  The other boy said, “I could never build such a thing. Never. I can only build in Minecraft.”

My heart sank.  And I recalled a comment that my 9-year old had made the day before when talking about how many kids around him “only play video games.”  He said, “Mom, will they still have a word for ‘friends’ when I am older?”

And I ask, will there still be a word for ‘hubris’ when my son is older?  As in, belief in one’s ability to build a real-life dam.  Maybe even with a friend.

Useful Employment: Summer Reading

In the summer months of my growing up years, sitting in the shade of a tree or feeling the warm breeze of an oscillating fan, I spent many a long afternoon reading. Weekly readings were gathered from the school book club and from the local library (which required a weekly two and a half mile bicycle ride to fill my basket). Afternoons were filled with mystery, people of long ago, men and women who lived in the White House, and characters who, by their adventures, captured my imagination.

We played outdoors in the mornings and evenings, when it was cooler. These times were filled with swimming, bicycle rides, visits with cousins, gardening, kick the can, lightning bugs and stargazing. During the hottest part of the day, we were still, and this is when we read. Screen based temptations such as television, movies, video games, and social media were not continually vying for our attention. Life was simpler. Simple, common activities were before us. The effort of decision was lessened.

Today, parents and children have a multitude of enticements competing for their attention. Parents, just think of the requests that have come before you to have access to your children for an afternoon, a week, or a month this summer. Morning, noon and night, the commercial market screams for access to our children. And, all too often, the children scream for access to the commercial market with all its adrenal stroking sights and sounds.

In We Have Met the Enemy, Daniel Akst elucidates the challenge of choosing between desires. He divides desires into first and second ordered desires. The first ordered desires are “the grabbing of appetites and longings that seem to beset us without conscious intervention.” These are, of course, the targets of all commercial marketing. Second ordered desires point to the fulfillment of personhood in the highest sense of the word. Charlotte Mason’s biographer Essex Cholmondley provides insight into this highest sense of personhood.

The power to live the life God has given him in exactly the way God intends him to live it. In order to have this power the person must be at his best, must be a complete person, “mind, heart, soul, and strength” and must know how to choose the good and refuse the evil.

In order to choose between these first and second ordered preferences, parents must have a vision for the kind of person they would have their child  become. Children grow up to be men and women. Yet, for any given child, there are broad possibilities as to the kind of person he or she will become. Noble maturity takes attention and effort, the  denial of baser desires and the satisfaction of the more noble desires. Thus, effort in a certain direction is required by both parents and children.

Charlotte Mason reminds us that in order to rightly “bring up” children without treading upon their personality, parents and educators are limited in the “tools” they use.

'Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.' By this we mean that parents and teachers should know how to make sensible use of a child's circumstances (atmosphere), should train him in habits of good living (discipline), and should nourish his mind with ideas, the food of the intellectual life.[1]

While it is unquestionably easier to play upon children’s sensibilities, emotions, desires, and passions (or to allow them to play upon ours), the result is disastrous, one becomes a slave to chance desires. It should also be noted that the relational atmosphere, the intentional formation of good habits, and the offer of inspirational ideas are not tools for manipulating children. Rather, they point to a quality of life that naturally “brings up” children in a healthy way.

In thinking about the summer, and the tools we have in hand, consider this about Atmosphere – What kinds of environments will surround your child this summer? What will she ‘breathe in’ to influence her moods, her aspirations, her inclinations towards humanity?’ Will they be life giving and ordered around second level preferences?

And consider this about Discipline – What habits of the good life will your child be trained in this summer? What habits of thinking and acting will influence her for the life before her? Will they be life giving and ordered around the second level preferences that nurture his most noble personhood?

And consider this about Life – What ideas will be cultivated through the books he reads, the technology he embraces and the company he keeps? Will they be ideas of integrity, courage, and faithfulness, all ordered around second level preferences?

We choose between Ideas. It is well, however, to know what it is that we choose between. Things are only signs that represent ideas. Several times a day we shall find two ideas presented to our minds; and we must make our choice upon right and reasonable grounds. The things themselves, which stand for the ideas, may not seem to matter much; but the choice matters. Every such exercise makes character the stronger; while it grows the weaker every time we bow to less worthy impulses.[2]

Charlotte Mason believed that the ideas required for sustenance for children are mainly found in the best thought the world possesses, stored in books. We must open these books to children, the best books.

Only as he has been and is nourished upon books is a man able to "live his life." A great deal of mechanical labor is necessarily performed in solitude; the miner, the farm-laborer, cannot think all the time of the block he is hewing, the furrow he is ploughing; how good that he should be figuring to himself the trial scene in the Heart of Midlothian, the "high-jinks" in Guy Mannering, that his imagination should be playing with 'Ann Page' or 'Mrs. Quickly,' or that his labor goes the better "because his secret soul a holy strain repeats." People, working people, do these things. Many a one can say out of a rich experience, "My mind to me a kingdom is"; many a one cries with Browning's 'Paracelsus,' "God! Thou art mind! Unto the mastermind, Mind should be precious. Spare my mind alone!" We know how "Have mynde" appears on the tiles paving the choir of St. Cross; but "mynde," like body, must have its meat.[3]

Our choices change who we are and how we live. Open the books, (some are listed in our library or download list). And, let us rise to be the persons we were intended to be.



[1] Mason, Charlotte, School Education, 216-217.
[2] Mason, Charlotte, Ourselves, Book II, 146.
[3] Mason, Charlotte, A Philosophy of Education, 331.
** Édouard Vuillard "Women Reading"

 

The Atmosphere of Home

Now, that work which is of most importance to society is the bringing up and instruction of the children—in the school, certainly, but far more in the home, because it is more than anything else the home influences brought to bear upon the child that determine the character and career of the future man or woman.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 1

The Atmosphere of Home

We often talk of ideas in the classrooms at Ambleside, but what about the ideas in our homes? We want our children to love learning, but does our home life foster this love?

Charlotte Mason says that every parent holds their breath when they hear that their children take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about them, and that even the parents’ words and ways form the starting point from which he develops.

There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as ‘inspirers’ to their children, because about them hangs . . . the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long ‘appetency’ towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.

Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 37

It has been said that a child is either moving to a higher place or sinking to a lower place all the time. Our work in the classroom is only effective as it finds support in the home.

The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food.

Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 39

These thoughts beg some questions about home life. Is our life so full of going that our children have no time for being? Is our focus on developing the physical body (sports, activities) with little space for growth of the spiritual? Are the allotted times for video and television really “mindless” activities, or are they creating an appetite for ‘junk food’ and dulling the appetite for ideas?

Even if the circumstances of your home life do not have the peace you long for, you can still be an agent of peace and nourish your home atmosphere with ideas. You can offer a simple thought of God to your struggling child or place a bracing hand on his shoulder to show support as he works to break a weak habit. Charlotte Mason says it is the part of the parent to deposit with the child some fruitful idea of God, and ”the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down and touches the soul and there is life, growth, beauty, flower, and fruit.”  For all of us, there is new hope.

 

Virginia Wilcox
Principal of Ambleside School of Herndon, VA

Cultivating the Habit of Attention

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this habit of attention. It is..."within the reach of everyone and should be made the primary object of all mental discipline"; for whatever the natural gifts of the child, it is only so far as the habit of attention is cultivated in him that he is able to make use of them.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 146

The Habit of Attention is Important

One of Ambleside School's commitments to parents is this: “All students will be supported in mastering the habit of focused attention” through inspirational ideas and natural consequences.

Why is this habit of attention so important?

In addition to the standard classroom practice of presenting short, varied lessons and narration after a single reading, we work with each student in other ways to develop this habit of attention. These are simple interventions implemented daily in the classroom that are also useful at home. Some of these include:

  • Kindly requiring that a child keep eye contact when engaged in conversation or discussion with someone.
  • Asking the child to repeat instructions back to ensure they have understood them.
  • Using subtle gestures such as gently tapping or placing an encouraging hand on a child’s shoulder to re-focus their attention back to the work at hand.

Sometimes, the calm and simple movement of a teacher to closer proximity beside a child lends the student the strength and reassurance they may need to help them regain attention.

Some students may need a teacher or parent to help them by breaking down their work into steps and estimating for them the time a task will take. Charlotte Mason’s idea of “set work for set time” is a way to remedy a child’s tendency to let the mind wander and become distracted. It is important to have a finite amount of time planned for specific work to be done—a realistic expectation is established, the expectation is clearly communicated, and the expectation and timeframe are enforced—for instance, the teacher gives thirty minutes to complete an illustration in a copybook. If a student completes her best work before the thirty minutes has passed, she is then rewarded with that extra time for leisure before she begins her next task. A child will quickly get this idea and be motivated to use his time wisely.

Older students may need an inspirational appeal to their will:

He should be taught to feel a certain triumph in compelling himself to fix his thoughts. Let him know what the real difficulty is, how it is the nature of his mind to be incessantly thinking.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, 145

When he brings his own will to make himself attend, “Well done! You have done your duty,” could be our encouraging response.

Attention is both a trait and a skill, and developing its power in our children requires steady practice and confidence that, no matter how weak the trait, each step of growth unleashes new strength.

Virginia Wilcox
Principal of Ambleside School of Herndon, VA

 

Looking Back: A College Student Reflects on Her Education at Ambleside

The Greatest Benefit Gained

Culture. I never realized until I went to college that Ambleside teaches culture. The Ambleside curriculum is very rich and well rounded. I didn’t just read about Abraham Lincoln or study algebra in the same way that other secondary school students did. I was being enlightened to the past. I listened to “Rhapsody in Blue”—not as background music while I was writing or doing homework—but I had the opportunity during my school day to sit and listen and appreciate the beauty Gershwin heard and was able to share in his music. I went to art museums in Washington, D.C.—not just to look at the paintings and sculptures—but also to reflect on and discuss an artist’s life and consider what influenced his work. I read Shakespeare—I didn’t just trudge through his scripts as I witnessed my high school classmates do—I lived, breathed, and loved Shakespeare. I can understand and appreciate his wit and finesse at a deeper level.

I didn’t leave these things behind when I left Ambleside.

 

“A Magnanimous Mind”

Now, when I study, I listen to music by the great classical composers I studied at Ambleside like Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. When I visit a bookstore, rather than head towards the New York Times Bestsellers section, I search out the shelves with the smaller selection of old poems and plays. I still look at a painting with an eye and a mind to analyze the artist’s style and contemplate the deeper meaning in his masterpiece, rather than only looking at the surface. Sadly, I can’t discuss these kinds of things with most of my peers. They look at me strangely when I become excited about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” They don’t understand my love of history and for things of the past. I can have meaningful conversations with my professors and others who may have various interests different from mine, because I have acquired a broad range of knowledge from my education and experience at Ambleside. 

A Magnanimous Mind. —It is a mistake, perhaps, to think that, to do one thing well, we must just do and think about that and nothing else all the time. It is our business to know all we can and to spend a part of our lives in increasing our knowledge of Nature and Art, of Literature and Man, of the Past and the Present. That is one way in which we become greater persons, and the more a person is, the better he will do whatever piece of special work falls to his share. Let us have, like Leonardo, a spirit invariably royal and magnanimous.

Charlotte Mason, Ourselves - Book I, Chapter 3

Lasting Impact

Two skills I haven’t encountered during my education anywhere else other than Ambleside are narration and dictation. Narration is telling back what you’ve just read. A portion of a text rich in ideas is read, and the student retells that part using as much detail and author’s language and as thoroughly as possible. Dictation is writing exactly what the teacher dictates. The Ambleside student begins to develop the skill of narration in Kindergarten. Dictation begins in third grade when students have developed better handwriting and spelling skills. Through these skills and habits, Ambleside fosters the student’s ability to concentrate, translate, listen, and transcribe with proficiency. I know that narration and dictation have enabled me to maintain focus during hour-long college lectures and take notes quickly and thoroughly. The acquired skills of listening and writing simultaneously have greatly helped me in my college studies.

 

Confidence to Face Challenges

I have fond memories of the annual Shakespeare Festivals at Ambleside. My favorite role was Dromio of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors.  One part that continues to impact me, even though I never played the role, is Bernardo in Hamlet. I had wanted to be Bernardo because he spoke the first line in the play[1], and I was so inspired by his character, that I memorized every one of his lines before we finished reading the play! On any given day, I can still recite from Act I, Scene 1 and thereafter! This has given me confidence that I can face any challenge that comes before me. If I can still remember the lines from a Shakespeare play that I learned ten years ago, learning about vectors in physics or memorizing formulas in chemistry are small feats in comparison!

 


This is an excerpt from a conversation with a student who attended an Ambleside School from K-Eighth grade. She is currently a freshman in college studying Biological Systems Engineering and Biochemistry.


[1] “Who’s there?

 

Pages

Subscribe to Ambleside Blog